Many Homeless Children Reported Out of School

By Kirsten Goldberg — March 25, 1987 2 min read

Homeless children are more likely to be neglected, abused, and absent from school than those in the general population, according to a new study by the Child Welfare League of America.

The survey of transient families and single people in eight cities, conducted at Traveler’s Aid International stations, found that 43 percent of the school-age homeless children interviewed were not attending school.

“Homelessness is a children’s problem,’' said David S. Liederman, executive director of the Washington-based group, in releasing the report last week. He said the survey results confirm “what many of us in the child-welfare field have felt for some time.’'

Concern Over Age

The average age of the transient children surveyed was 6. Social workers who conducted the survey said they suspected that 10 percent of the children were being abused--about three times the national rate. In addition, 10 percent were judged to be in need of medical care.

The low average age of the children studied “is cause for concern about the physical and emotional development as well as the long-term effect on these children,’' said Judy A. Hall, executive director of Traveler’s Aid.

Twenty seven percent of the transient children reported spending the previous night with friends or relatives. Another 25 percent had spent the night in an emergency shelter, and 21 percent had stayed either outdoors, in a bus or train station, or in a car.

More than 50 percent of the children were traveling with one parent. Of the homeless adults traveling alone, 25 percent had left behind children with former spouses, relatives, or in foster homes, the survey indicated.

Logistical ‘Mess’

Educating transient children “is a big mess,’' said Valerie A. Mascitti, director of the homeless project for Advocates for Children of New York. School officials in that city, which was not included in the survey, estimate that about 6,000 school-age children there are living in hotels and shelters for the homeless.

Children may attend one school for only a few days or weeks, Ms. Mascitti said. Often, their records from previous schools are not transferred. Sometimes, she noted, they disappear for months.

In addition, many homeless children have learning disabilities, or are one or two grades behind others in their age group, she said.

“Nobody accepts ownership of these kids,’' Ms. Mascitti said. “The local district says, ‘These are not our kids,’ and sometimes won’t let them in.’'

The New York City public schools did not have guidelines for placement of transient children until last year, Ms. Mascitti said. This month, a school-system employee will begin working as an ombudsman for homeless families.

More Homeless Families

Traveler’s Aid stations across the country are experiencing an increase in the number of homeless families seeking assistance, the study found. Because shelter space is limited, transient familes are frequently separated.

The most common reason given for homelessness was loss of employment. A majority of the women and 40 percent of the men had been unemployed for three months or more.

Most of the families at one time were self-supporting, but began traveling from one area to another seeking jobs and housing. Eighty percent of the families came from outside the locality where they were surveyed.

Social workers interviewed 404 homeless adults traveling alone and 163 families traveling with 331 children from October to December of last year. The survey, a pilot for a national study, was conducted in Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Tampa, Fla., and Washington.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 1987 edition of Education Week as Many Homeless Children Reported Out of School